How Can Health & Safety Be Communicated to Migrant Workers?

Posted on written by Sam Barton

In 1993 there were around 3 million migrant workers in the UK, by 2015 that number had reached 7 million.

Migrant workers play a major role in our economy – some estimates put their contribution at £328m per day – however for those workers who have poor or no English language skills, health and safety can be a major problem.

In this week’s blog, we are going to examine the problems that migrant workers face in the UK in regards to health and safety and how these issues can be resolved by non-traditional means of communicating policies and procedures.

What Barriers do Migrant Workers Face?

While research shows that migrant workers don’t necessarily increase health and safety risk by themselves, many work in occupations where accidents and safety breaches are more common. Their status as new and often inexperienced workers can have a contributing factor in incidents occurring at work.

Foreign-born workers often take employment in the manufacturing, construction and warehouse sectors that generally carry more health and safety risks than, for example, working in an office.

Having a poor or no grasp of English is the main barrier that migrant workers face however a lack of appreciation of British health and safety laws and regulations is another problem that can cause safety issues for themselves and their co-workers. 

How Can These Problems be Overcome?

The most obvious solution to the problem of non-English speaking workers being able to understand the regulations and policies that are in place is to translate the materials. That being said, this can be costly and time-consuming.

If you need something communicated quickly then creating a visual workplace environment is an effective solution. Using recognisable signs, pictograms and easy to understand images you can convey a health and safety message much quicker.

In most workplaces, there is no legal requirement for an employer to demand that employees speak English, however, a long-term solution can be to invest in English classes for migrant workers. Learning English can cut out most communication problems and it is also likely to increase staff retention rates. We looked at a similar concept before – Why You Should Treat Your Employees as an Asset – and investing in your workers has an impact on motivation and productivity too.

Effective Health & Safety Policies for Migrant Workers

Communicating your workplace safety policies and the wider health and safety legislation in the UK can be a challenge when it comes to migrant workers. Safety standards in the UK are generally quite high and if a foreign-born worker speaks little to no English then informing them of their obligations to themselves and their co-workers is often very difficult.

In the short-term, using images, pictograms and recognisable signs can help and having health and safety training materials translated can prevent many accidents from happening in the first place. Investing in English language classes is the most effective method for long-term safety and integration and it can have knock-on benefits such as an increased staff retention rate.

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